Many Meetings With Professor Rao :)
--Nipun Mehta
3 minute read
Sep 25, 2007


After having heard about him through Jayeshbhai (via Karma Capitalism article in Business Week), through Birju at Columbia, featuring him in DailyGood and reading his profound 63-page syllabus, it was a pleasure to meet Professor Srikumar Rao (several times) last week!

In a nutshell, Professor Rao has pruned lot of religious and spiritual wisdom and, rather successfully, framed it in a business-school context.  Having led a marketing team for Warner Brother for one of the highest grossing film in US history -- Exorcist -- at the age of 23, going on to do his PhD in Physics, succeeding in the business world, and ultimately stumbling onto his own path of happiness, he seems to have a credibility that business school students respect.   His class at London Business School and at Columbia is wildly popular, he has been covered by all kinds of media from NY Times to Time Magazine to CNN, and he is coming out with his second book next year.

On a crisp morning last September, Srikumar S. Rao leaned upon a lectern, set his marble-shaped eyes on 35 Columbia Business School students and simply stared.

Cellphones silenced and BlackBerries muted, these aspiring executives stared back, then began eyeing one another more anxiously with each mounting minute.

Finally, a young woman shattered the silence. "O.K.," she started. Dr. Rao, mellow and fatherly, grinned back, testing the patience of the typically type-A business students.

In a school where most of the 200 or so classes are Wall Street-centric, Dr. Rao's course, called Creativity and Personal Mastery, is as unbusiness as business school gets.
As I invited him to Karma Kitchen, he invited me to his 8AM-4PM workshop with 400 students at Berkeley's Hass School of Business.  It was great to see him in action -- funny, insightful and spiritual.  He said stuff like:

  • You can't produce profound change by an act of will.
  • We all have mental models of how the world works; they often contradict each other and are unrecognized.  And all of them are wrong.  The question is which is going to serve you better.
  • Our problem is that we live in a me-centered universe.
  • Life is not real -- it's a construct and you created it.  You can reframe however you'd like.  (We saw a clip from "The Matrix").
  • Everything is a quest for happiness and advertising tells us that happiness comes from things (we saw a great clip by Professor Sut Jhally).
  • We get something, to do something, to be something.  Majority of our lifetime is spent in learning how to unhappy.
  • Stop networking.  Offer service to people who are being the change you wish to see, and allows networks to emerge.
  • Like an hour glass, everything goes through the neck -- that's our present moment.  You can't rush it.
And so on.  He really had good things to say.  They weren't new concepts but I was delighted to see hundreds of business school students eagerly soaking it up!

In the middle of his rant on shifting out of the me-centered universe, he says, "And yesterday night, I was at Karma Kitchen."  And he describes the gift-economy, and proceeds to invite me to the mic to share some stories.  And after just two minutes of spontaneous sharing, the students gave an enthusiastic round of applause and I bet we'll see a lot of them walk to Karma Kitchen in the coming weeks.  :)

Professor Rao is also going to a smile-card experiment at London Business School, Ashish might be getting his class introduced at Wharton, Dhru's DBoost is helping him take advantage of web 2.0, and the Hollywood filmmaker (Kuro) doing a documentary on his work wants to explore synergies with CharityFocus.  And much more.  Stay tuned as more develops. :)

Posted by Nipun Mehta on Sep 25, 2007

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